The languages in England before English.
England has been inhabited by humans for at least 50 thousand years. Unfortunately, little enough can be said about the early languages of England. The first people in England about whose language we have definite knowledge are the Celts. The Celts came to England in three waves before the Germanic tribes. Economically and socially they were a tribal society, they practiced a primitive agriculture and carried on trade with Celtic Gaul (Галлия). Celtic languages were spoken over large parts of the Europe B.C. but later they were absorbed by other IE languages and there are few traces of them. Some branches of Celtic languages developed into Irish (Ireland), Scotch-Gaelic (Scotland), Manx (the Isle of Man), Welsh (Wales), Cornish (Cornwell). Some of these languages and dialects don’t exist any more.
The Roman Conquest.
In 55 B.C. Julius Caesar tried to invade England, but he had problems and also the resistance of the Celts was unexpectedly furious.
It was in 43 A.D. that the emperor Claudius brought almost all of the England under Roman rule. He also encountered a serious uprising – it occurred in 61 A.D. under Boadicea, the Celtic queen. At the end of the century England became a province of the Roman Empire.
England gradually became romanized. The province was very well guarded and fortified. The paved roads were built everywhere and they connected military camps and quickly growing towns, which were inhabited with Romans and native Celts. The large houses were built and they were equipped with heating and water supply. The upper classes and townspeople were much more romanized than the inhabitants of the rural districts. In the towns Roman dress, ornaments, utensils, pottery, glass were in general use. The population in the north remained Celtic in language and customs. Among the most important trading centres was London. By the 3d century Christianity made some progress on the island.
The Roman occupation lasted nearly 400 years and ended in the early 5th century. Then the Roman troops withdrawn, for the Empire was breaking up.
The Latin language in Britain.
The Latin language is another evidence of romanization . A great number of inscriptions have been found and all of them in Latin. Latin didn’t replace the Celtic language in Britain as it did in Gaul, its use by native people was probably confined to members of the upper classes and some inhabitants of the cities and towns. On the whole there were certainly many people in Roman Britain who habitually spoke Latin or upon occasion could use it. But its use was not sufficiently widespread. Latin in England was the language of church and education, the monks were practically the only literate people, they read and wrote Latin and later used the Latin characters to write down English words.
The Germanic conquest.
In 441 started the invasion of Britain by certain Germanic tribes, the founders of the English nation. The traditional accounts of the invasion go back to Bede (monastic scholar) and the Anglo-Saxon chronicles that tell us that Germanic tribes that conquered England were Angles, Saxons and Jutes. When the Roman troops withdrew, the Britons were unable to resist Picts and Scots, who attacked them on every side. So it is reported that the British king invited two Germanic kings as allies in local war. But soon they saw that Britons are very weak and decided to stay on the island. The Jutes came in multitude, with their families and clans and began making a forcible settlement in the south-east in Kent. The Saxons came in the second wave of invasion, landed on the south coast and established themselves in Sussex. The further bands of Saxons settled in the West in Wessex. In the middle of the next century the Angles occupied the east coast and established large kingdoms East Anglia, Mercia and Northumbria.
Gradually the Germanic conquerors and the surviving Celts intermixed and blended into a single people. The invaders prevailed over the natives so far as language was concerned. After the settlement West Germanic languages came to be spoken all over the Britain with the exception of the Scotland, Wales and Cornwell, where the Celts were the majority.
The Germanic settlement of Britain in 5th c. can be regarded as the beginning of the independent history of the English Language. The period from the 5th to the 11th c. is called Old English period.
The period from the 5th to the 11th c. was a transition from the tribal and slave-owning system to feudalism. The civilization which was established under Roman influence was destroyed with the conquest of the Anglo-Saxons. The Roman towns were burnt and abandoned. The organization of the society was by family clans with a sharp distinction between earls – a kind of hereditary aristocracy and the ceorls or simple freemen. The basic economic unit was feudal manor, as it grew its own food and produced everything for its needs. The growth of feudalism was accompanied by rise of regional dialectal division. In some time various tribes combined either for greater strength of under the influence of a powerful leader to produce small kingdoms. Seven of these eventually recognized are Northumbria, Mercia, East Anglia, Kent, Essex, Sussex, and Wessex. In the 9th c. West Saxon Kings in Wessex claimed themselves kings of all the English, and under Alfred Wessex attained a high degree of prosperity and considerable enlightment.
Old English dialects
OE wasn’t entirely uniformed language. There were differences between the tribal dialects and as the feudal system was setting in, the dialects were entering a new phase: tribal dialects were transformed into local or regional dialects.
We can distinguish 4 main dialects in OE:
Of these Northumbrian and Mercian are found in the region north of the Thames, settled by the Angles. They possess some features in common and sometimes collectively are known as Anglian. But also they possess their distinctive features. Unfortunately we know very little about them. They are preserved in charters, runic inscriptions, few brief fragments of verse and some interlinear translations of portions of the Bible.
Kentish is known from still scantier remains and is a dialect of the Jutes in the South-East.
West Saxon was a dialect of the West-Saxon kingdom in the South-West. Nearly all of the OE literature is preserved in manuscripts transcribed in this region.
With the ascending of the West Saxon kingdom the West Saxon dialect attained a position of a literary standard. Such a start as it had made towards becoming the standard speech of England was cut short by the Norman conquest.
Old English literature.
The literature of the Anglo-Saxons is fortunately one of the richest and most significant of any preserved among the early Germanic peoples. The history of written OE begins at the beginning of the 8th century.
The earliest records in English are inscriptions on hard materials made in runic alphabet. It was never used for everyday writing, poetry or prose. Its main functions were short inscriptions on objects, often with magic purpose.
Our knowledge of OE comes mainly from manuscripts written in Latin characters. The first English words written in Latin characters were personal names and place names, later came glosses and textual insertions. At first documents and texts were written in all dialects of OE, later laws and charters are written in West Saxon, even those that came from regions different from Wessex.
The literature was of two sorts. Some of it was brought to England by the Germanic conquerors from their continental homes and preserved for a time in oral tradition. At the end of the sixth century the Christianity was reintroduced and this fact influenced the literature greatly. Two streams mix in OE literature, the pagan and the Christian, and they are never quite distinct.
OE poetry is a most precious literary relic, there were 3 types of poetry: heroic, religious and lyrical. Many poems existed in oral tradition and were written down later.
The greatest single work of OE literature is Beowulf, an epic of the 7th or 8th c. that has come down to us in 10th c. West Saxon copy. It is a poem of some 3000 lines belonging to the type known as the folk epic, that is the material existed orally for a long time and the poet gave it a final form. The story tells us how a young warrior, Beowulf, fought the monster Grendel, killed it and its mother, and years later died fighting with a dragon. Not the plot, but the character of the hero, the social conditions, and the motives and ideals that were important for people in early Germanic times make the poem one of the most vivid records of life in the heroic age.
In the 10th c. new war poems were composed, e.g. the Battle of Brunaburh and the Battle of Maldon, which deal with contemporary events and wars and show the outlook and temper of the Germanic mind.
Another group of poems are lyrical ones: Anglo-Saxon poets sang of the things that entered most deeply into their experience – of war and of exile, of the sea with its hardships and its fascination, of ruined cities, and of minstrel life: Widsith is an account of the poet’s wanderings. Deor is the lament of a scop who for years has served his lord and now finds himself thrown out by a younger man. The Wanderer is a tragedy, the story of a man who once enjoyed a high place and has fallen upon evil times. The Seafarer is a monologue in which the speaker alternately describes the perils and hardships of the sea.
Religious poetry is the translations and paraphrases of books of the Old and New Testament, legends of saints. The earliest English poet whose name we know was Cædmon. Another Anglian poet was Cynewulf wrote at least four poems on religious subjects, which have their counterparts in other literatures of the Middle Ages.
Indeed literary prose began in the 9th c. during the reign of the Anglo-Saxon king - Alfred the Great (871-899). Alfred realized that greatness of a nation depends on culture, especially in native language. He translated from Latin books on geography, history and philosophy, popular at that time: Pastoral Care of Pope Gregory, Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People, philosophical work The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius, caused to start the writing of Anglo-Saxon Chronicles. The tradition was carried on by Ælfric and Wulfstan, with his Sermon to the English.
By the 10th c. the West Saxon dialect has firmly established itself as a written form of English.
The Scandinavian invasions of England
In the 8th c. raiders from Scandinavia (the “Danes”) made their first plundering attacks on England. The struggle of the English against the Scandinavians lasted over 300 years.
There were 3 waves of raids.
The important consequence was the settlement of a large number of Scandinavians in England. Some indication of their number may be derived from the fact that more than 1400 places in England have Scandinavian names.
The contact of English with other languages.
In the course of the first 700 years of its existence in England English was brought into contact with at least three other languages, the languages of the Celts, the Romans, and the Scandinavians. From each of these contacts it acquired something, especially additions to its vocabulary.
The Celtic Influence
Evidence of the Celtic influence chiefly survives in place-names. Kent, e.g. derives from the Celtic word Canti or Cantion, the meaning of which is unknown, the two ancient Northumbrian kingdoms as well as Devonshire and Cornwall derive their names from Celtic tribal names. The name London itself most likely goes back to a Celtic designation.
The first syllable of Winchester, Salisbury, Exeter, Gloucester, Worcester, Lichfield, and a score of other names of cities are also of a Celtic origin. But the greatest number of Celtic words survived in the names of rivers and hills and places near them, e.g. the Thames, Avon, Exe, Esk, Usk, Dover, and Wye. Celtic words meaning ‘hill’ are found in place-names like Barr , Bredon Bryn Mawr, Pendle and others.
Besides place-names the influence of Celtic upon the English language is very little. This slight influence can be explained by the submerged position of the Celts as compared to Anglo-Saxons.
Latin Influence on OE
As for Latin it was not the language of a conquered people. It was the language of a highly regarded civilization, one from which the Anglo-Saxon wanted to learn.
The adopted words indicated the new conceptions that the Germanic peoples acquired from the higher civilization. The influence is reflected in the following groups of words, connected with the most widespread activities of the people of that time:
As a result about 450 Latin words appeared in English during the OE period. This number does not include derivatives or proper names. Of them only 350 made their way into general use and can be considered part of the English vocabulary. The word is completely assimilated when it can enter into compounds and be made into other parts of speech just like native words. E.g. the Latin noun planta comes into English as the noun plant and later is made into a verb by the addition of the infinitive ending –ian (plantian) and other inflectional elements.
In the place names such elements as –caster, -chester (Lancaster, Manchester), - wich (Greenwich), -port (Portsmouth, Devonport) have Latin origin.
The Scandinavian influence on OE
As the Scandinavians and the English lived side by side, their languages gradually influenced each other and finally intermixed. The similarity of the two tongues made it possible.
It is sometimes hard to decide whether a given word in Modern English is a native or a borrowed word. One of the simplest criteria to recognize it is the development of the sound sk. In OE this was early palatalized to sh (written sc), while in the Scandinavian countries it retained its hard sk sound. So native words like ship, shall, fish have sh in Modern English, Scandinavian words have sk: sky, skin, skill, scrape, scrub, bask, whisk. The OE scyrte has become shirt, while the corresponding ON form skyrta gives us skirt. In the same way the retention of the hard pronunciation of k and g in such words as kid, dike (cf. ditch), get, give, gild, egg is an indication of Scandinavian origin.
The Scandinavian influence is apparent in the place-names of Scandinavian origin. They are the names containing the following elements:
The words brought by Scandinavians were of everyday character and often existed side by side with similar English words. The survival of one or the other must often have been a matter of chance: band, bank, birth, bull, dirt, down, egg, fellow, freckle, gap, guess, kid, leg, root, seat, sister, skill, sky, steak, want, window, flat, ill, low, sly, weak, call, die, gape, give, get, take & others.
Not only nouns, adjectives and verbs were borrowed, but also pronouns, prepositions, adverbs, and even a part of the verb to be, which shows very close relation between the two languages: they, their, them, both, same, till, to and fro are Scandinavian. The present plural are of the verb to be is a most significant position.
Some inflections were also borrowed from Scandinavian. E.g. the –s of the third person singular present indicative of verbs and the participial ending –and (bindand) now replaced by –ing. The reason was that many words in the English and Scandinavian languages differed chiefly in their inflectional elements. The body of the word was nearly the same in the two languages and only the endings bothered the understanding. So the inflections gradually were lost.
There are also some influences on syntax, though it is not so easy to prove them. E.g. the omission of the relative pronoun in relative clauses (rare in OE) and the retention or omission of the conjunction that are in conformity with Danish usage; the rules for the use of shall and will in Middle English are much the same as in Scandinavian; the tendency to put a strong stress at times on the preposition and notes the expressions such as “he has some one to work for” that are not shared by the other Germanic languages.
It is difficult to count the number of borrowed words in Standard English. The list of words with undoubtedly Scandinavian origin is about 900. And an equal number must be added in which a Scandinavian origin is probable or in which the influence of Scandinavian forms has entered.
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